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Powell Promises Kuwait Loyalty On 10th Anniversary of Gulf War

By Robin Wright
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- KUWAIT CITY

U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell pledged Monday that the United States would stand indefinitely by Kuwait in holding off Iraqi aggression. But the 10th anniversary commemoration of Operation Desert Storm underscored the fact that the United States and Persian Gulf sheikdoms still struggle against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein -- and that the battle is getting tougher.

“We renew our determination that evil will not prosper, that freedom will live and breathe in this part of the world and that honored heroes will not have died in vain,” Powell said at a ceremony on the sun-drenched grounds of the fortified American Embassy here. As chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Powell ran the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Former President Bush, who assembled the most powerful international coalition since World War II to end Iraq’s seven-month occupation of this tiny city-state, said Washington would “never betray our responsibility” to Kuwait.

“We fought too hard, too many died to make it happen, so I would simply say to Kuwaiti soldiers, ‘You are not alone. You never will be,’ ” Bush told a crowd that included Kuwaiti troops as well as the Operation Desert Storm commander, retired Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf.

Yet as the heroes and policy-makers of the six-week war reassembled to mark their decisive victory over Iraq, many factors that produced the confrontation have not changed.

The oil-rich sheikdoms are at least as reliant on the United States as they were after Iraq’s stunning August 1990 invasion of Kuwait. More than 5,000 U.S. military personnel are deployed in Kuwait, with thousands more in Saudi Arabia and other gulf states and on a rotating series of warships. Iraq’s army has been more than halved, but Baghdad, the capital, still has the most powerful military in the gulf. And the United States is more dependent on imported oil than it was 10 years ago.

Meanwhile, Washington is finding it harder to contain Hussein, who has defied every CIA prediction about his durability -- estimated in 1991 to be only months.

The Arab world now overwhelmingly opposes economic sanctions, forcing the new Bush administration to revise policy.

En route to Syria for talks Powell held later Monday with President Bashar Assad, a senior State Department official conceded that Washington will change its policy in response to growing pressures.

The senior official said the new policy will center on lifting the punitive economic measures that hurt the Iraqi people while maintaining control of Baghdad’s weapons of mass destruction and ensuring that its oil revenue is not used to rearm.